CATFISH IN YOUR BACKYARD POND. FRIEND OR FOE?

By: Mike Gannon | Posted On: May 14th, 2012 | 8 Comments | In: KOI POND, NATURAL PONDS, POND FISH, POND PREDATORS, ponds, Water Garden

catfish in the pond

Probably the biggest misconception I see among pond owners is that introducing a catfish to the backyard pond or water garden will help keep your pond cleaner. With respect I’d like to burst the bubble on that school of thought. Catfish, although scavengers, will not do anything to actually help keep your koi pond water garden clean; and may actually have a greater impact on lowering the overall water quality of your pond than your traditional koi and goldfish will!

As a pond pro part of my job is to give advice that even I may not want to live by and that includes the advice I give about keeping catfish in your backyard koi pond or water garden installation. However; before I give my angle on catfish, we need to narrow down which type of catfish I am referring to. Most fishkeepers will be introduced to catfish via the aquarium hobby, and if that is the door you came in through then you know that there are many genus and species of “catfish”. Some of these catfish grow no bigger than an inch in length, while others can become behemoths capable of swallowing small animals!

When it comes to catfish in your backyard pond we are not really stocking either of those extremes, but typically the catfish that go into our ponds and water gardens can get very large, very quickly; sometimes up to 10lbs! In the wild the channel cat can get up to 40+ lbs. By far the most popular catfish that is sold by water garden and pond centers is the channel cat; so for this argument’s sake let’s pick on them.

The channel cat, Ictalurus punctatus, is most often sold to pond owners who have the belief that these fish will somehow keep our ponds cleaner and clearer by eating all the garbage, algae, and fish waste that occurs in the pond. Any experienced, honest pond fish reseller should tell you this will not be the case.

The channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is a fish of “MOSTS”. Ictalurus punctatus is the MOST populous catfish species in North America, it is the MOST popular catfish in aquaculture practices, it is the MOST adaptable catfish living in habitats from clear to muddy waters and lakes to streams, and the MOST popular state fish being the official fish for Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Tennessee! It is the MOST popular catfish with U.S. anglers, and the MOST tasty delicious catfish. It is also the MOST popular catfish for ponds, and possibly the MOST misunderstood choice of pond fish on the market.

So let’s dish up the channel cat. The channel cat is an omnivore actually, which by default makes it a scavenger, but the channel cat is not a fish to depend on for housekeeping in your pond. In its natural settings the channel cat will eat “smelly” foods like decomposing fish, but also chow down on worms, crayfish, shrimp, other fish, lots of frogs, insects, larvae, seeds, and algae too. However; the channel cat will actually adapt very well to the feedings that you provide for your expensive koi and pond fish. They will very quickly become the primary consumer of your expensive fish food, easily muscling your koi out of the way at every feeding; and the channel cat can eat a lot! Channel cat in the pond equals skinny koi and high food bills. If the catfish is not satisfied with the feedings you provide it would not be surprising if smaller fish in your pond start to disappear. Blame the heron, but the catfish may not be so innocent either!golden channel catfish nj

Channel cats are also nocturnal, and become active at about the same time that most other pond and water garden fish are trying to settle down for the night. This may create a certain level of stress to the more desirable pond fish like koi and ornamental goldfish. The channel catfish is rarely bought for the purpose of adding beauty to the pond because they don’t have great coloring, typically grey or “gold”. They also hide most of the time only coming out for feedings.  And they will not create better water quality or reduce waste in your pond.

For those that are enthusiasts of the keeping the channel cat in the backyard pond or water garden there are many good points to this fish. The channel cat is very easy to keep, being able to handle a wide spectrum of water quality. They will take just about any prepared fish food, so don’t be shy about buying that 50 lb. bag of trout chow to keep up with their appetite. They are not expensive and widely available. Channel cats can be bought small and grow out quickly. They handle low water temperatures no problem, and they live a long time with 12 to 20 years a typical life span. When they are big enough they can actually be ridden around your pond like a dolphin. Well, maybe they can’t be ridden, but the other positive aspects of the channel cat still hold water.

Given the information you now have, you can decide whether keeping the channel catfish in your backyard pond is for you. General pond fish keeping hobbyists will love the channel cat for the many positive aspects they have. Those trying to keep a more controlled koi pond environment may want to think twice before buying these fish for their “housekeeping” reputation. Whichever the case, I am sure that the channel cat will be available to pond and water garden keepers for many years to come.

Mike Gannon is owner at Full Service Aquatics located in New Jersey, USA. Being “In The Pursuit Of All Things Aquatic” has led Mike to be a lifelong hobbyist and fish enthusiast. Mike began working professionally in the aquarium and pond industry in 1990. Full Service Aquatics started in 1995 offering all services, design, and installations of koi ponds, water gardens, and aquariums. Since that time Full Service Aquatics has become recognized for their designer pond installations, featured in publications, and winning awards within the water garden and pond industry. Mike is the creator of THE POND HUNTER video series on YouTube, the LOVEYOURPOND page on Facebook, and the LOVEYOURPOND Blog. Mike’s website www.loveyourpond.com is dedicated to koi ponds, water gardens, natural ponds, other aquatic interests. The website features a gallery of beautiful pond images and a comprehensive FAQ section. To contact Mike visit his website www.loveyourpond.com or email him directly at mgannon@fullserviceaquatics.com

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Written by Mike Gannon

Mike Gannon

Mike Gannon works at Full Service Aquatics in New Jersey


    8 Comments

    Comments Feed
  1. Albert Says:

    on November 27, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for the reading and I hope people pay attention to what you wrote because it is so true. If they really want something to ride in their pond might I recommend a blue catfish :) .

  2. Bob Showen Says:

    on June 23, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    This article matches my experience. Our 3 year old catfish began at 5″ length and now at 2 ft matches our 10 year old koi. It was very interesting a year ago, but now competes voraciously with our koi and goldfish. Who can I give this monster to?

  3. Mike Gannon Says:

    on July 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Hey Bob! yep another catfish story! They are great fish and I even think a pond full of just catfish would be awesome, but keeping them with koi is not a great mix, in my opinion. I would contact a local aquarium store or aquarium services provider to see if they would be interested in them. They will usually have a much better chance of finding a home than an individual will. However, it is not likely they will buy the catfish so I’d just see if they will take it! Thanks again, Mike

  4. Linda Says:

    on July 16, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Not sure I agree with this article 100% – we had 2 20++pound albino catfish in our pond for over 20 years (unfortunately, this was a loooong cold winter in NJ and we lost all of our fish – which included about 2 dozen koi and our surviving catfish). We also had 2 smaller albino cats for almost 2 years and they would come up with the koi at feeding time (they actually looked like whale sharks the way they skimmed the food off the surface, but there was always plenty of food for the Koi). What we have noticed this year, now that we restocked our pond with 7 older Koi, 3 younger ones, and we’ve noticed 3 babies who were born in the pond this spring – that we have an overabundance of algae, which we NEVER had when we had catfish. We are looking for 1 or 2 albino cats to put in our pond to help alleviate this issue, but our locals guys are out-of-stock. Hopefully, we don’t have any issues like stated in your article – we never any problems before….

  5. Mike Gannon Says:

    on July 18, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Hi Linda, I’m glad that catfish have worked out well for you in your pond. I don’t even agree with my article 100% because there are always exceptional situations, but I still would not purchase a catfish for the reason of cleaning a pond or controlling algae. I do know that they can live with fish that typically they would eat also, this is a behavior alot of captive predators exhibit. But the potential for that day to arrive when their tank or pond mate becomes lunch is always there, although maybe it never happens. There is nothing 100% about fish behavior, but I do try to present some very likely scenarios that people should be aware of when keeping catfish. And don’t get me wrong I LOVE catfish, and think a catfish pond can be alot of fun too. -Mike

  6. Tom Gray Says:

    on August 3, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    I bought two channel catfish three years ago from a pet store. They were a couple of inches long when I got them and put them in my backyard pond along with existing six Koi and five gold fish of assorted sizes. At first the cats were very shy and would not surface to eat. Now they have adapted and swim around like the other fish and have grown to over a foot in length. Yes, they do compete with the other fish for Koi food but it has not caused any problem. I spread the food out over the surface of the pond and all the fish get to eat. I agree the cats do not help keep the pond clean, however, they do not eat the other smaller fish, and other than producing waste (no more than the other fish of equal size), they do not cause any problems and seem to easily survive various water temperatures. They no not have the bright colors as the Koi, but nonetheless they are my pets and I enjoy them just as much as the other fish. Actually I enjoy watching them more to see how they continue to adapt to their environment. If by chance they get too large for the pond, then I will have to deal with that.

  7. Front Row Tickets Says:

    on September 15, 2014 at 4:49 am

    A friend of mine has a pond that has been established for many years. We fish that pond regularly. While largemouth bass seem to dominate, we occasionally get a really nice channel cat on the line. They put up a great fight! Largest we have caught in there was 13 pounds. But to add something to this forum that may be of use to the other people here, the catfish definitely are not improving the water quality of this pond. The big cats tend to churn up the bottom while foraging and the water is always murky. So don’t add cats to your decorative backyard pond looking for water quality improvement. That won’t happen.

  8. Mike Gannon Says:

    on September 23, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks Nick for the great feedback on catfish! So are you a ticket broker? My wife is a ticket broker in NYC at Broadway Promotions, small world.. -Mike

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